Considering some potentially fruitful connections between the gym (gah!) and large classrooms.
I run at the small indoor track here at McMaster, one end of which curves around the glass-walled varsity weightroom. (Do you like the confidence with which I used the present tense to describe my running regimen? Thank god blogs don’t have fact-checkers). Each time I turn into the curve that runs past that little room packed with young athletes, a strange vision pops into my mind’s eye: alarmingly pale legs, pumping up and down, with a serious aftershock of jiggle rippling upwards after each footfall. My legs are so very, very pale. They are moon-bright; they might guide you on a starless night; they’ve been known to confuse wolves and other nocturnal animals. When I’m running, I can’t help but feel like they’re flashing neon signs drawing attention to themselves, and to me. And because the track at McMaster is small, I end up running past that weightroom many, many times in a workout.
So when I came across former- professor and now-textbook writer Santo D’Agostino’s blog post last week, I couldn’t help but laugh. In his post, “Lectures Suck“, D’Agostino writes:
“I do think that there is a role for lectures, but they ought to be less frequent, and more resources should be devoted to creating effective learning communities, where groups of students learn together at different levels, and at their own paces. Kind of like a karate dojo, or a weight-lifting gym, where everyone does their thing, helps each other, and there are guides along to help those that need it.”
I not only laughed at this idea, I also snorted. Out loud. In public. When I’m at the gym, I am absolutely, delusionally certain that everyone is looking at me. How could someone suggest that we bring that sort of environment into the classroom?
But I think D’Agostino deserves a lot more credit than this. When I’m at the track and I’m not busy imagining impact-tremors jiggling through my thighs, I sometimes take a moment to appreciate how those around me do their workouts. The way people work in the weightroom is especially impressive. They help each other out, even if they appear to have drastically different capabilities or goals. It seems to be understood that each individual has their own separate path to follow; that what works for one may not work for another. Somehow I have learned that this is not how gyms work; for me, gyms are another venue in which women’s bodies (and men’s too, presumably) come under intense scrutiny. And, unfortunately, many people have learned similar things about classrooms–not that they are image-focused, but that they are about evaluation, grades, performance, and displaying seemingly innate traits like intelligence, or stupidity. I wonder how the lecture hall might be re-conceptualized to avoid this culture of competition and self-criticism, and how it might be structured to incorporate more peer-to-peer learning and multi-track or multi-directional learning. Perhaps the weightroom, or the karate dojo, is a good model.